Everyone knows that Superman has powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, but when you ask people if they could choose just one of Superman’s powers, most people answer with: Flight. However, when Superman first appeared in 1938, he actually didn’t fly – he leaped, only an eighth of a mile at a time.
So, when did Superman first fly?
Many people think Superman first flew in the 1940s Fleischer animated shorts, however, that’s not factually correct.
Superman appears to have flown in the comics BEFORE the Fleischer cartoons, but only due to an error by artist Leo Nowak. While most of the artists on the Superman books at the time drew Superman leaping through the air; being new to the book, Nowak just took things a little further in 1941’s “Superman #10”.
Nowak drew several panels in which Superman appears to be hovering in mid-air rather than in mid-leap. In the top right panel in the page below you can see Superman, with clouds behind him and buildings below, appearing to be casually floating. There’s no movement to his cape and there are no action lines indicating movement.
Interestingly, in a story entitled “The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk!” found in “Superman #30” (with a cover date of September 1944), which incidentally is Mxy’s first appearance, Superman is chasing Mxyztplk in the sky above Metropolis saying, “I – – I thought I was the only one who could fly!!” This appears to be the first time within the comics that Superman himself acknowledges his ability to fly.
Superman’s first flight “in story” was not from the comic books, but actually came a year earlier than the previously mentioned “Superman #10” during a radio program in 1940.
In the very second episode of “The Adventure of Superman” radio show, in February of 1940, titled “Clark Kent, Reporter”, Superman is flying. He opens the episode by hovering in the sky…
“Today as our story continues we find him hovering with his curios power above a quiet highway in Indiana. A trolley car is just pulling up the hill, and as Superman wheels and turns in curious flight…”
However, that still is not the first time Superman flew. The first time Superman was depicted in flight was in 1939 on a British magazine cover.
With an on sale date of August 5, 1939, issue #772 of “Triumph” magazine featured an image of Superman flying in space, away from Earth.
America’s McClure Syndicate licensed out Superman newspaper strips to Amalgamated Press to be reprinted in the British magazine, with the publication containing a mix of comic stories and illustrated fiction. It is believed that this image was drawn by UK illustrator John “Jock” McCail, who also did several other Superman covers for this run.
It is clear in this image that Superman isn’t simply leaping. He’s in flight, fist first, well above the earth and headed out to space.
So now you know. While Superman could only leap an eighth of a mile to begin with, it wouldn’t take long for the Man of Steel to take flight… but it wasn’t in the comic books, it wasn’t in the Fleischer cartoons, nor the 1940s radio series. The first time Superman was depicted in flight was on the cover of “Triumph” magazine, dated August 5, 1939.